MAHOPAC, N.Y. — Mahopac coach Jim Castrataro and North Salem coach Scott Schafer have seen their teams play the closest of games the past five years when competing against each other.
Tuesday night’s matchup at Crane Road was exactly that when the host Indians’ fifth-inning comeback lifted them to a 5-4 victory to close the gap with North Salem in the Greater Hudson Valley Summer League 15-and-under ‘B’ standings.
“[The team] has figured out ways to win games,” Castrataro said. “Before, we used to lose a lot of close games. That’s baseball IQ, once you start learning the game you start winning the close games.”
In what was evolving into a pitcher’s duel, starters Ryan Castrataro of Mahopac and Zack Cotter of North Salem tossed three scoreless innings apiece to begin the game.
“Zack threw well,” Schaeffer said. “He got us through four solid innings. My shortstop Chris Dolce made some good plays. What I like about our team is that we are not a team of superstars. We are all equal and we all chip in what we need to in order to win. Inning-by-inning, out-by-out.”
The left-handed Castrataro worked the complete game one-hitter with his only earned-run scored during the fourth inning when the Tigers initiated a double steal. A wild throw from Indian catcher Frankie DiGaudio that glided into left field allowed Mike Puletz to score before the next two batters were retired.
Mahopac didn’t waste any time, responding in the bottom half of the frame when right fielder Mike Sottile grounded an RBI single to right and plated DiGaudio from second.
North Salem found a way to ring up three more runs with two outs in the top of the fifth. Right fielder Scott Harde lined a base-hit and second baseman Kyle Singer walked.
After both runners advanced on a wild pitch, Chris DiSanzo tapped a grounder to Mahopac shortstop Chris Luongo. He played the short-hop nicely but fired the ball too low at first base, and just like that the Tigers led 3-1.
They added another run on a wild pitch, as DiGaudio’s attempt to throw out DiSanzo at third went into left field, allowing him to scurry home.
Down four runs and hungry for a battle, the Indians kept the seesaw moving in the bottom of the same inning.
It all started with an error on North Salem and a walk before center fielder Matt Luongo plopped a single into left-center field to load the bases.
Puletz took over on the mound for Cotter, but didn’t last long after walking a batter and being struck in the shin by a line-drive off the bat of his friend DiGaudio, who rushed over to make sure he was OK.
The hard-hit rumbled into right field thereafter, allowing both of the Luongo brothers to score and knot the game at 4-4.
Harde entered on the hill in relief with runners on second and third and no outs. He struck out Mike Tomassio and got Robbie Morrow to ground out to short, holding both runners where they stood.
But the pesky Indian Sottile earned his second clutch hit of the night with an RBI single to right past first baseman Tommy Brewer, and Mahopac mounted its comeback at 5-4.
The struggle raged on into the top of the sixth, when Cotter drew a two-out walk and reached third after DiGaudio dropped a pop-up right above home plate off the bat of Kevin Connolly.
Left fielder Thomas Schafer proceeded to ground out to shortstop, and this time Luongo’s throw was on the money to help the Indians escape the threat.
“Our offense was a little vacant today,” Schaeffer said. “Credit to his son (Castrataro). He’s a crafty lefty. What we did the best today was base-running. We work on that all year and are finally taking advantage of those mistakes.”
The right-hander Harde didn’t give up any runs in the bottom of the frame, but the Tigers went down one-two-three in the top of the seventh to a locked-in Castrataro.
“It was exactly how I thought it would play out,” Schaeffer said. “We battle these guys year in and year out, and I knew it was going to be a one-run game. They are similar to our team, well-coached and scrappy kids that all fight to the end.”
Mahopac finished the regular season in second place with a 9-4 record and started playoffs last weekend.
“[North Salem] has definitely gotten a lot better and our team has progressed too,” Castrataro said.
Despite losing to Mahopac twice this summer, the Tigers captured the league championship, finishing 10-4.
North Salem also began its playoff campaign last weekend. There is a high possibility that these upper seeds will meet a third time this summer in the finals as the Tigers garnered the top-seed with Mahopac grasping the No. 2 seed.
“They are seeing that the more repetitions they put in, the more they are improving,” Schaeffer said of his squad. “They feed off of that and we have great pitching and defense. When our bats are working, we are pretty vicious.”